Katy Burns: After vaccine, sunshine ahead

Monitor columnist
Published: 4/11/2021 2:00:07 PM

In early March, my husband and I started to breathe again. It was a long time coming after months of fear and near isolation.

On Feb. 9, we got our first shots of the COVID-19 vaccine in a large parking lot at Southern New Hampshire University in Hooksett. It was a miserably chilly afternoon and members of the state’s National Guard stoically ignored a persistent drizzle as they politely and efficiently directed the armada of cars into orderly lines where occupants patiently waited to take their medicine.

Precisely four weeks later at the same time and place (but now in sunshine, the guardsmen (and women) and medical aides were practically beaming as they gave us the second shot. The breezy and mild day was a good omen.

We’re prime targets for the rampant virus – old with some of the frailties of the aged. And just two weeks after the second injections we were deemed safe, or relatively safe, from the dreaded plague haunting the globe. That’s why details of the vaccinations are memorable.

We’re still cautious, still wearing masks in public, still avoiding close contact with most people. Trips to the supermarket are still well-planned and expedited with deliberate speed. Zoom and FaceTime are still our major portals to the world. But the fear is gradually diminishing, and for that I thank those shots the National Guard delivered.

I’m an unapologetic fan of vaccines. I remember too well what it was like without them. Do any of today’s naysayers? Do they know nothing of history? Do they care or are they just too busy posturing?

I remember that in the 1950s, one much longed for vaccine miraculously wiped out my personal childhood terror: polio, more descriptively known as infantile paralysis, a terrible disease that seemed to strike at will and at random. And children were its saddest targets.

Everyone seemed to know at least one child who ended up, at least briefly, in an iron lung, a monstrous-looking giant steel tube festooned with hoses, wires and gadgets. And for a few, an iron lung wasn’t just a brief treatment. Even today, there is an occasional headline of “Man dies after 65 years in an iron lung.”

An iron lung was every child’s nightmare. And the miraculous development of a vaccine saved us from that terror. Mass polio vaccinations were held in school gyms and families would eagerly show up, often in their best togs, as if for church. (Yes, at one time people actually dressed up for services.)

Polio is now considered completely eradicated in the U.S. and much of the world and the dreaded iron lungs are little more than curious artifacts in medical museums. Also nearly gone from our lives in this country, thanks to vaccines, are a raft of diseases which until recently terrorized humanity. Not just the especially vicious scourge of smallpox, but also diphtheria, bacterial influenza, measles, mumps, rubella and tetanus. They might sound innocent, but they had and have the ability to kill. And before the modern miracle of vaccines they did, by the many millions.

That’s why I’m so grateful for vaccines, including the ones for this latest plague, and so bewildered by the nearly one in three adult Americans who now say they are likely to refuse to get the COVID vaccine. Don’t they understand that they’re protecting not only themselves but also others around them who are perhaps more susceptible to the potentially deadly disease? Don’t they care?

And who are the contemptible politicians who feed this dangerous disregard for the severity of the disease? First among them is our former president Donald Trump, who spent much of his final year in office ignoring the growing threat of the virus and denouncing those who tried to spread the alarm and to take precautions.

He particularly delighted in mocking mask wearing, even though it is probably the single most efficient and effective way of slowing and preventing the spread of the COVID, other than vaccines. Because Donald Trump inexplicably inspires irrational loyalty in a sizeable segment of Republican voters, hundreds of GOP office holders at all levels of government felt compelled to follow his irresponsible lead and downplay the lethal virus. Trumpian voters followed in lockstep.

It wasn’t until March, when a former Trump advisor spilled the beans to the New York Times that Trump, who has spent his adult life seeking and wallowing in any publicity he could find, and his wife, Melania, were quietly vaccinated in the White House before the Jan. 20 inauguration of his successor.

In a most un-Trumpian way, no press announcement was made. No photographs were taken. It was done in secrecy.

It was contemptible and cowardly and a fitting way to end the misbegotten presidency of perhaps the most profoundly self-centered and selfish man ever to hold the post. But his reign is, thankfully, over.

And we were able to celebrate Easter with my sister, who’d been quarantining herself in her small town in western New Hampshire. We were maskless. We hugged. It was good.

(Monitor columnist Katy Burns lives in Bow.)

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